Title: Back Home: Dad's war is over, but the battle's just begun.
“I guess you would call us a normal family. Once a month, and sometimes other times, too, Dad would be gone for a few days. Mom told us that he was in the National Guard. We were normal, you could say. And then we weren’t.”
Rachel “Brownie” Browning is thirteen when her father comes back from the war in Iraq. Of course she understands that he has been injured and that he will be a little different, at least for a while. But Brownie doesn’t even know the man with a prosthetic arm and leg who sits in the living room day after day. He’s certainly not the father who helped her build a fort in her backyard, or played basketball with her sister, or hauled her little brother around like a sack of potatoes.
Brownie’s mother says that because of his traumatic brain injury, their father needs their affection and patience. In time, he’ll be better–Dad will be back. But Dad doesn’t seem to be making much progress, or much effort. He doesn’t smile. He doesn’t talk. He won’t even get out of his wheelchair, even though the doctors have taught him how and say that walking is essential to his recovery. And Brownie begins to wonder, will her family ever be able to return to the way life was before the war?
A story about an ordinary family forced to deal with an extraordinary loss, Back Home tells the tale of families scarred and the battle just beginning when their wounded loved ones return home.
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Keller's debut suffers from too much telling, not enough showing. Developed from the author's experience as a reporter following families whose loved ones were afflicted with traumatic brain injuries, but focusing on a returning war veteran, the book feels more like an expository essay on the disorder's impact on soldiers and their families than a novel. This unflinching account of a father's return from Iraq (without two limbs and with severely reduced brain function) is narrated by his 13-year-old daughter, Rachel. However, there's little of the emotion one might expect from a girl in her situation: she delivers the facts about his inability to function, her mother's steady loss of patience and the decline in relatives' support with detachment (“People—teachers, other kids, our friends—treated us like we were made of paper or something, and if they said the wrong thing... it would be like poking a finger through a thin sheet of paper”). While this emphasizes the emotional difficulties Rachel has in coping, the repetitive way in which the story's details are laid out can be tedious, despite the harrowing subject matter. Ages 10–up. (Sept.)